Thursday, October 21, 2004: Four more wins.
That is what it is going to take. Four more victories, whether by overwhelming knockout or knock-down, drag-out fight.
Do not get me wrong – pathetic though it may seem for someone who is not a passionate sports fan, last night was one of the greatest of my life, even though for most of it, it wasn’t. Only a Red Sox fan can understand being almost violently nauseous with a seven-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. Only a Red Sox fan can understand why I was screaming at Tito Francona and my television when he took Derek Lowe out for Pedro (the stupidest and most inexplicable decision by a human being in my lifetime). Only a Red Sox fan can understand why, after a night of screaming and yelling and entreating and pleading, I could only sink to my knees, prostrate before whatever it is that makes me do this to myself, and weep just a little bit.
Only a Red Sox fan can know.
I may well have succumbed to convulsions or paroxysms or an aneurysm last night had we not taken a solid lead and run with it from the first inning on. Another Dale Svuem moment, in which he ran Johnny Damon into a (close) out at home plate despite the fact that Manny’s single was to shallow right and Jesus H. Damon had not yet reached third when Matsui gathered up the ball, might have been the felling blow, except that seconds later Ortiz jacked a home run to put us up 2-0 and spot us a lead that we would never relinquish.
The rest is something of a blur. In the second Johnny came in with the bases loaded and smashed the first offering of Kevin brown’s replacement, Javier Vazquez, into the right field bleachers to make it 6-0. No one in Red Sox Nation felt entirely comfortable, but at the same time, with the belief that we all have developed in this team, we knew that things were going to be different from the past, even if we did not dare articulate it. And believe me, in the stream of phone calls between my friends and me, especially my half-inning by half-inning updates with Rob and my regular calls with Pep, we did everything to skirt the obvious: That we were about to slay the monster and put all of the talk, the curse talk, the ghost talk, the Babe Ruth talk, to rest.
And none of it would have happened without Derek Lowe. We all knew that he would have a role to play in this series, and most of us suspected that Sunday night’s quality start was not the end of that role. He simply had the best pitching performance of a Red Sox starter since, since, well, since I do not know when. He went six innings and gave up one hit and one run. His sinkerball was nasty, cutting the corners and virtually unhittable. He looked like a guy with redemption on his mind. Or a contract. Or simply a World Series ring. Whatever it was, he was masterful, and I was murderous when it was clear that Pedro was not simply throwing to get his side work in between starts.
Of course Pedro came in, to the inevitable “Who’s Your Daddy” chants and he was all over the place. He gave up two runs, and while toward the end he was showing flashes of 1999 (97 mph fastballs – we’d best see those on Saturday night, or my homicidal rage may re-emerge), he never ought to have been out there no matter what reason Tito gives – and we have not yet heard one.
But this is not a Sox team to be daunted. And once the Pedro experiment ended, mercifully after an inning, our relief corps got it done again – Timlin pitching for five outs, with Embree coming on to induce the grounder to Pokey that sent Red Sox Nation into a collective clebration that probably will not subside until Saturday night.
And there is Saturday night. It was glorious to win last night. And yes, it was all the better to have done it against the Yankees, who allowed the Red Sox to stage the greatest comeback in sports history. But this is not about the Yankees, even if beating them in their house makes it all the better. This is about the Red Sox. And let there be no mistake about it, it is also about us, the fans, Red Sox Nation. But while we will all celebrate and dance and walk around like zombies, albeit like zombies with perma-grin, there is still a job to do. Tonight we will watch the Cards and Astros hopefully bash the hell out of one another (I’d like an order of extra innings with extra relief pitchers please). We will bask in one of the greatest victories of our life, and surely of the greatest Sox victory we have ever seen. But the guys definitely know, we all do, that there are four more wins to get.
As for what it means to have beaten the Yankees, I’ll let an email that Rob sent me before the game yesterday sum it up:
“I have to say, I’m not nervous at all. I’ve transcended it. I’m excited. I’m ready to go. Let’s get it on. Like I said, I’ve taken the approach that it’s house money. The Yanks own us. They’ve owned us for 85 years. If they win tonight, they own us for 86. What’s the difference? We’ve got nothing to lose. But they do–we are putting our chips on the table in an attempt to win something huge. We made 56,000 NY fans shut up for a while last night. We can make millions of them shut up forever tonight. What’s not to be excited about? This is how it has to be–I said before the series started that I wanted to win it in the fashion where we run up big numbers, hit batters and give the finger to everyone in the stadium before we leave … . This is bigger than that. You NY fans want to talk about how long it’s been since we won the World Series? You want to talk about how close we’ve been? You want to talk about our big chokes? Well, he’re you go, … the biggest choke in sports history. You think it’s been fun reliving the curse every year–well get ready to relive the biggest choke in sports history every time a team goes down 3-0. Knicks get down 3-0 to the Pistons in the playoffs? Here comes the highlights of the Sox. Rangers get down 3-0 to the Flyers? Here come the Sox highlights. Hell, the Padres in 2025 get down 3-0 to the Dodgers? Here comes the Sox highlight. This is not a situation to fear. This is a situation to embrace. The one good thing I remember Pitino saying was on opening night of his first season when the C’s took a decent lead over the world champion Bulls into the fourth quarter and the Bulls started coming back, he called a timeout and said “stop staring at the clock and wishing it would get to zero–you are about to beat the world champions on opening night-go out and play and enjoy it.” If we take that approach tonight, we’ll win. This series is about redemption. I said it before. For things that happened this series, this year and last year and forever. Schilling got it. Bellhorn got it. Foulke got it. Wakefield got it. Lowe got it. Arroyo got it. I don’t know what Ortiz needed redemption for, but whatever it was, he got it. Tonight, a few more guys get it. We win this game the way we’ve won so many others–with Damon getting on base and moving along, with Manny driving in runs and with Pedro coming in to pitch the last five innings and get the win. It’s going to happen and when it does the Red Sox and all their fans get redemption. F Kevin Brown. F getting runs off him. F the whole Yankees team and F the whole city of New York. As Mikey said in the Goonies when everyone wanted to ride up the bucket in the wishing well and go home, ‘it’s our time right now–out there, it’s been their time, but right now, it’s our time.’ I’ll be nervous come game time. I’ll do the routine. I’ll bring out the thunderstick if needed. But I’m going to enjoy the hell out of his. We have a chance to take the greatest franchise in the history of American sports and pin on them the most embarrassing loss in this history of American sports. Embrace it. Enjoy the moment. It’s finally our time. I’m out–will talk to you later tonight.”
And yes, we still believe.